Page 1


Brian Blodgett

Ray Garza

Bob Hocking

Tyler Levan

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Bob Rush


| SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2021



‘Everyday real heroes’ work tirelessly for their communities

Five North Iowans honored as outstanding first responders



irst responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and emotion-filled situations. They are essential to every small town and big city across North Iowa, the state and our nation. We need them, so therefore, they should be honored. “Community First Responders: Everyday Real Heroes” is the title of the Globe Gazette’s special section. We couldn’t have picked a better title to honor first responders and all they do for the communities in which they live and work, and Janet Johnson/Publisher Jaci Smith/Regional Editor Jerry Smith/Special Projects Editor Olivia Stalker/Advertising Coordinator Greg Wilderman/Circulation Director Advertising Department: 1-800-421-0546 Circulation Department: 1-800-433-0560

THE 2021 FIRST RESPONDERS: Brian Blodgett (Buffalo Center) ... L4 Ray Garza (Nora Springs) ... L6 Bob Hocking (Floyd County) ... L7 Tyler Levan (St. Ansgar) ... L8 Bob Rush (Mason City/Manly) ... L10

most importantly serve. they’re typically exposed to And we couldn’t have picked five a lot of on-the-job hazards. more deserving recipients of the In medical emergencies, you Globe Gazette’s “Community First might be exposed to patients COMMUNITY Responders” honor. who carry contagious disAmerica’s first responders are on eases if you don’t employ the FIRST necessary precautions. the front lines working to save lives During the scene of an acand protect communities across the RESPONDERS nation and are indeed everyday real cident, you could find yourheroes. self in situations where a lot The recipients of the Globe Gaof heavy lifting is necessary zette’s third annual “Community to get to your patients, which HONORING EVERYDAY First Responders” awards represent could lead to injuries. If you emergency medical services personwork for a hospital, you’re REAL HEROES nel, firefighters and new in 2021, a 911 constantly on call to respond to emergency calls. dispatcher. All are vital parts of every NORTH IOWA FIRST RESPONDER HONOREES North Iowa community. While it’s true that these The Globe is honoring EMTs from factors can be highly stressMason City/Manly, St. Ansgar, Nora ful for paramedics, getting Springs, a firefighter from Buffalo the job done in spite of it can Center, and a 911 dispatcher from lend itself to a higher level of Ray Garza Bob Hocking Tyler Levan Bob Rush Brian Blodgett Floyd County. satisfaction. The skills you’re Sunday, October 24, 2021 All of these everyday real heroes taught in school and the exshare a common desire to serve their perience you gain on-the-job The cover for the Globe Gazette special section recognizes communities as first responders and the five “Everyday Real Heroes” whose stories are told inside. offer a lot of value, not just for to help their friends and neighbors in your growth but for your comAs a medical first responder, you’re the times of need and crisis. munity. 2. EMTs and paramedics work long An estimated 4.6 million career and first on the scene of emergencies. Your volunteer firefighters, police, emergency skills can potentially prevent situations hours medical technicians, and paramedic from escalating and ultimately save lives. As you might have already assumed, workers serve communities all across the Your ability to provide life-saving care to working as a first responder means you nation, according to the Department of patients makes a positive impact in their will have to put in a lot of long hours onHomeland Security. lives. As a career itself, first responders are the-job. You can’t predict emergencies, very high in demand. In fact, the job out- which means that EMTs and paramedics FIRST RESPONDER CHALLENGES look for EMTs and paramedics is poised to are usually on-call 24/7. In an article reprinted from the HCI grow at a faster than average rate through Most people in this field work long shifts College website, the challenges of be- 2029. that can span 9 to 12 hours a day, although As rewarding as it is, however, it is not they also have the option to take several coming a first responder show how tough a career in the emergency medical services without its own set of challenges. If this days off to rest after pulling in extended field can be. is a career that you want to explore, fa- hours. HCI News miliarizing yourself with the potential As grueling as this schedule seems, the A lot of people looking to pursue a ca- difficulties you might face as an EMT or ability to help others is an experience like reer that is as exciting as it is rewarding go paramedic is important. Here are some no other for dedicated first responders. into healthcare. The idea of making a real you should consider: Your hours may be long and it can be exdifference in people’s lives is a big draw 1. First responders typically work in hausting, but that comes with a lot of satfor many medical professionals – espe- challenging environments isfaction knowing that your job can make a cially for first responders like EMTs and Because paramedics and EMTs are usuparamedics. ally the first responders in emergencies, Please see HEROES, Page 5

Globe Gazette


Sunday, October 24, 2021 | L3

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L4 | Sunday, October 24, 2021


Globe Gazette

Blodgett loves the ‘science of fire’ Buffalo Center fire chief learns from others on the job MARY PIEPER

Special to the Globe Gazette‌

Buffalo Center Fire Chief Brian Blodgett, a former physics and chemistry teacher, said one of the reasons he joined the department is “the science of fire is interesting to me.” “That’s what’s neat about the fire department,” he said. “I get to have a practical usage of my science degree.” Blodgett, whose stepfather was a firefighter in Callendar, joined the Buffalo Center volunteer fire department in 1995 while he was still teaching in the North Iowa Community School District. He now runs his own business, Next Generation Technologies. He has been the Buffalo Center fire chief for the past dozen years or so. “It’s a wonderful group of people to be with,” he said. What Blodgett likes best about being a firefighter is the relationships he has developed with the other members of the department, who come from all walks of life. “I get to learn things from people who do things completely different from what my day-to-day job and life is like,” he said. Blodgett also enjoys working with neighboring fire departments on training and mutual aid calls. When two or more departments work together toward a common goal, it creates synergy, according to Blodgett. “Two plus two equals five,” he said. “It’s a smooth machine. We can get a lot of stuff done quickly.” For the past couple of years, the volunteer fire departments in the area have been getting together for joint Firefighter 1 training, a 100-hour course with a test at the end of it. Blodgett teaches the hazmat classes for the group. Blodgett is proud of the Buffalo Center Fire Department. “We have a highly-trained group,” he said. “We are all trained up to the minimum standards and above. We have our ISO rating, which is the insurance institute rating for how well your department is doing, that’s increased over the past several years because we are doing our training and documenting.” Blodgett said the department has had many successful calls “where we have

About the first responder


What Buffalo Center fire chief Brian Blodgett likes best about being a firefighter is the relationships he has developed with the other members of the department, who come from all walks of life.

Name: Brian Blodgett Category: Firefighter Agency: Buffalo Center Fire Department Nominator: Steve Hepperly The reason: “He is selfless and very giving of his time, talent, and efforts to support and bolster his community. He does so very freely and effortlessly and is a pillar of his community and just an allaround caring and accommodating guy that always puts others ahead of himself.” saved houses and lives, and that is why we are here.” Over the past few years Blodgett has participated in the Iowa State Interoperability Communications System Committee,

which is building out the new digital radio system throughout the state. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with metro and rural fire folks, and really help build a system that works for all the different parts of Iowa,” he said. Winnebago County Sheriff Steve Hepperly said Blodgett “is selfless and very giving of his time, talent, and efforts to support and bolster his community. He does so very freely and effortlessly and is a pillar of his community and just an all-around caring and accommodating guy that always puts others ahead of himself.” Smaller communities have a great need for first responders, according to Blodgett. “These are some wonderful departments in these small towns, and if you are inter-

ested, talk to one of the firemen or one of the ambulance folks and see if they have any open coats,” he said. “Ask questions, see what the commitment looks like.” The Buffalo Center Fire Department takes those who are interested in joining the department around to show them what being a firefighter is like, Blodgett said. Although there’s a time commitment involved in being a firefighter, it’s well worth it, according to Blodgett. Everyone on the department “understands there are ebbs and flows in your life and there are times when, ‘I’ve got ball games with my kids tonight,’ and we work around those things,” he said. “If we all do a little bit, everything’s better,” Blodgett said. “It’s amazing.”

Globe Gazette

Heroes From 2

definitive impact in the lives of the people you are trying to help save. 3. First responders undergo tough training It should almost go without saying that emergency first responders have to go through stringent training. Your job is meant to save lives and that requires a very specific set of skills and education. Having the lives of the people you save in your hands means you have to do your due diligence to ensure the knowledge and techniques that you employ on the field are medically sound. Additionally, first responders must have enough experience and skills to be able to make major decisions on their feet—ones that could spell the difference between saving or losing a life. No matter how tough the training is, however, any education you acquire in becoming a first responder can provide lots of valuable experience and skills that can help you grow in this industry. The skills that you learn as an EMT or paramedic open so many doors for you in the medical industry and can often be-


We thank them for their commitment to making our communities a safer place.

come a good stepping stone for those who want to explore other careers in healthcare. 4. EMTs and paramedics are exposed to a lot of emotional trauma The nature of the job itself means you will be exposed to a lot of situations where injuries, trauma, illness, and even death are common. This can take a toll on even the most emotionally strong and healthy individual. Managing the potential impact that this might have on your well-being can be very challenging. Then again, the rewards of being able to make a positive impact in your patients’ lives is a strong motivator for many first responders. Additionally, the healthcare profession recognizes this as one of the primary challenges of working in this field and often provides a lot of access to counseling and emotional support for employees.

Bottom line?

While there are many challenges of being a first responder, the positive aspects of becoming a paramedic or EMT far outweigh the cons. Recognizing what potential challenges you might face can help you anticipate and address the pitfalls and become successful in your field.

IMT SALUTES FIRST RESPONDERS. Thank you for your service to our communities.

Sunday, October 24, 2021 | L5

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L6 | Sunday, October 24, 2021


Globe Gazette

‘You have to focus on the wins’

Ray Garza chased his dream of becoming an EMT in Nora Springs JERRY SMITH

Globe Gazette‌

Ray Garza considers himself to be a dreamer. After being an electrician for 13 years, the long hours and never being home sparked a dream to become a firefighter. While that dream took a bit of a detour when Garza saw the good Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) can do and how important they are to a community, he dove right in. After taking classes at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) while working as the manager of the Ace Hardware store in Mason City, Garza’s dream of becoming an EMT was realized when he started at Nora Springs Ambulance three years ago as a volunteer. “I didn’t know I would fall in love with the medical side,” he said. “I set goals and kept plugging away at them.” That gig eventually led him to become a member of the Nora Springs Fire Department as a volunteer, as well. For three years now, the EMT/firefighter has been serving in Nora Springs not for the glory or recognition, but to simply help his community. “I often reflect on the volunteer side and how important that is to the community,” Garza said. “Volunteers do what they do because it is the right thing to do. It is really fulfilling.” Garza and Emily Ploeger have been friends for quite some time now, enough for Ploeger to know what kind of person Garza truly is. That is why she nominated him for the Globe Gazette’s first responder honor. “He goes above and beyond to help people when they are in need of care,” she said in her nomination letter. “He pushes himself to be the best he can be. “Just the way he went after his dream through the obstacles that he has faced to get here (is amazing).” One of those obstacles was the number of times Garza had to take the state and federal boards before being certified. He said the time and effort was well worth it. “You get six times at the federal boards and it took me two years and my last try to get certified,” he said. “It finally came to-

About the first responder Name: Ray Garza Category: EMT/firefighter Agency: Nora Springs Ambulance/Fire Nominator: Emily Ploeger The reason: “He goes above and beyond to help people when they are in need of care. He is willing to jump into an emergency when there is a need, even when he isn’t on call.” gether. They don’t let just anyone do this job.” Garza’s dream of being a full-time, paid EMT will take him away from Nora Springs and the community he has grown to love in the coming weeks. He said that while the decision to take a job as a full-time EMT and emergency


After taking classes at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) while working as the manager of the Ace Hardware store in Mason City, Ray Garza’s dream of becoming an EMT was realized when he started at the Nora Springs Ambulance service three years ago as a volunteer. Garza was recently hired as a paid EMT for the Belmond Ambulance service. room technician at the Iowa Specialty Hospital in Belmond was bittersweet, he had to chase his dream. “I’m blessed to do this job,” he said. “The crew (eight EMTs and two drivers) in Nora Springs is very good and they are special people. The community is very blessed to have them. “(Working with them) is what helped me chase my next dream and get me a paid position in a field I love. We’re all in this together and I’m proud of all of them.” Garza said that he has gone on many calls – good and bad – but some calls stick with him more than others, and will always be a part of his journey. One in particular comes to mind: Garza and two other Nora Springs EMTs resuscitated a man who had stopped breathing.

Garza said he lived and will be able to spend more time with his family. “He made it. To run into him at the grocery store is fulfilling,” he said. “You don’t win them all, so you have to focus on the wins. There is no payment in the world that can make you feel this type of pride.” Garza has other dreams he would like to pursue, but said will concentrate on his job in Belmond for the time being. “I want to be a flight medic,” he said. “It will take a lot more schooling, but I’m an adrenaline junkie and want to purse that as the next step in my journey.” Jerry Smith is sports editor and special projects editor for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at or by phone at 641-421-0556.

Globe Gazette


Sunday, October 24, 2021 | L7

Hocking believes dispatchers are lifelines Floyd County 911 dispatcher has been on both sides of calls MARY PIEPER

Special to the Globe Gazette‌

Bob Hocking, a Floyd County 911 dispatcher who used to be deputy sheriff and a police officer, said one of the things he enjoys is “digging into things a little deeper.” “It’s important that they (the law enforcement officers) have as much information as they can get on any call that they’re going on, so it’s important for us as dispatchers that we are keeping them abreast of whatever it is and let them know what is going on,” Hocking said. Hocking’s daughter, Elizabeth Knecht, who works as an administrative assistant for Floyd County 911, said her father has “a unique and useful perspective having served on both sides of that call.” Hocking, who grew up in Charles City, enlisted in the U.S. Navy right out of high school in 1974. He was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After he got out of the Navy and moved back to Charles City, he got married. His father-in-law was in the Charles City Police Reserves “and that piqued my interest,” he said. Hocking joined the police reserves and then became a Floyd County Sheriff’s deputy. He later took a five-year break from law enforcement, but he missed it. He decided to come back as a dispatcher and has been doing that for the past 16 years. He has another year and several months left before he retires. Hocking said what he likes best about being a dispatcher is, “it’s something different all the time. When you get a phone call, you don’t know who is calling and what it is going to be about.” When someone calls 911, it’s probably because of “one of the worst things they’ve ever encountered in their life,” Hocking said. The callers are often very scared and upset, “and it’s hard to understand them initially,” he said. It’s important for dispatchers to calm them down so they can get the information they need, according to Hocking. He said the best way to do this is to “speak to

About the first responder Name: Bob Hocking Category: Dispatcher Agency: Floyd County 911 Nominator: Elizabeth Knecht The reason: “Bob has worked for most of his life in Law Enforcement in one capacity or another. Bob currently serves as a 911 Officer for Floyd County, which gives him a unique and useful perspective having served on both sides of that call.” them, not yell at them.” It’s also important to keep the callers on the line as long as possible, according to Hocking. Even if the call turns out to be a false alarm and everything is fine, it is reward-


Bob Hocking started in 1980 as a reserve officer for the Charles City Police Department while simultaneously serving in the United States Navy. He then became a full time Deputy Sherriff serving Floyd County through 1998. After a small break outside of law enforcement, he then came back to serve as a Police Officer for the City of Charles City. ing to help someone who is afraid, he said. He recalls getting a call one night from a little girl who heard something suspicious just outside the house while her parents were asleep down the hall. She was calling from inside a closet and was whispering. “She was scared to death,” Hocking said. He ended up dispatching an officer to the scene. Nothing alarming was found, but before the officer arrived to confirm everything was OK, “it was a whole lot of something” to the child, Hocking said. He recommends those who are thinking about becoming a dispatcher come in observe what they do. “It’s not for everyone,” he said. “You really have to be able to multitask.”

There’s s a lot of “dead time” during a shift, particularly late at night, according to Hocking. However, if a call does come, you have to be ready for it, he said. Being a dispatcher might not be for you if you “get rattled” easily, Hocking said. Those who want to be a dispatcher have to graduate from a 40-hour training course in Des Moines first. Then they must go through in-depth, on-the-job training for a month or several months – depending on how quickly they adapt – before their official start. Hocking has always worked the overnight dispatch shift, which lasts from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., so he can have his evenings free. “It works better for my family life,” he said.

L8 | Sunday, October 24, 2021


Globe Gazette

Levan motivated by his community EMT serves St. Ansgar Rescue with passion to help others JERRY SMITH

Globe Gazette‌

Tyler Levan believes in the old adage that more hands make for light work. In fact, it’s a rule for which the St. Ansgar first responder lives his life. Levan works full time at Patterson Seeds Ltd. in Osage, helps out at Michels Family Dairy in Stacyville, helps on his family’s 400-500 acre farm operation, and still is able to take calls for St. Ansgar Rescue. “I love helping my community,” said Levan, who received his EMT certification in 2017 and immediately was put on the call list for the volunteer non-transport service in St. Ansgar. During harvest time in North Iowa, Levan isn’t as readily available as he is during other times of the year because he is working long hours. But he still takes his turn in the on-call rotation. “Farming has its seasons, so the calls I take are at night,” he said. “My employer is flexible and they are supportive of what I do. There are times of the year I’m able to take more calls. “I’m not the only one with a busy life. We all make it work for the good of the community.” Levan was first bitten by the first responder bug back in 2012, when a very dry fall led to field fires in Mitchell County and other parts of North Iowa. One came close to the Levan family farm and his parents’ house, so the St. Ansgar Fire Department set up in the garage. Levan felt compelled to help. “We were running bottled water to firefighters on our four-wheeler,” he said. “I loved being a part of it.” Those same firefighters and first responders later told Levan they were putting together an EMT class and asked if he’d be interested. He was all in. Levan took his classes at Riverland Community College in Austin, Minnesota, and said he furthered his knowledge on the ride along portion of his EMT training. He said he had the added benefit of going on the ride alongs and making his required 10 patient contacts in Austin, Rochester, Mankato and other Minnesota towns.

About the first responder Name: Tyler Levan Category: EMT Agency: St. Ansgar Rescue Nominator: Ed Kleinwort The reason: “He’s a very hard working man. If there is a call, he comes. He is a good first responder. He’s very dedicated.” “I learned more on the ride alongs than in the class,” Levan said. “That’s how I’m wired. I learn visually and by doing.” Fast forward to the present and Levan is more than happy he took the leap into becoming an EMT. He says it is fulfilling and pushes him to be his best every day. He said the group philosophy of St. Ansgar Rescue is simple: “Send the patient


When field fires threatened the home of Tyler Levan’s parents a few years back, he ran firefighters bottled water. He loved being a part of it so much, Levan decided being a first responder was for him. away better than when we first saw them.” That goes hand in hand with Levan’s goal each time he is on call: “Give them the best care possible.” Ed Kleinwort, a longtime first responder with St. Ansgar Rescue, said he believes Levan has found his calling. He has seen throughout the years that Levan is a hard-working man who will drop everything if he can to respond to a call. “If there is a call, he comes,” Kleinwort said. “He’s a good first responder. He’s very dedicated.” Levan said that what makes his volunteer service even more rewarding is the support the community shows during calls and during fundraiser events for St. Ansgar Rescue. He said all of the supplies are purchased

through fundraising events, like the annual pancake breakfast, and the department rarely wants for anything. “I have to tip my hat to everyone in this community. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” he said. “It’s a community effort.” Levan says he is honored to be one of the 25-28 members of St. Ansgar Rescue, where everybody is laser focused on helping people. “When the call comes, we want to help somebody,” Levan said. “It gives a person a feeling of accomplishment. You hold onto the good moments.” Jerry Smith is sports editor and special projects editor for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at or by phone at 641-421-0556.

Globe Gazette



Sunday, October 24, 2021 | L9

Thank You To All Our First Responders!



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L10 | Sunday, October 24, 2021


Globe Gazette

Rush likes ‘helping people in need’ Firefighter finds passion as first responder in Mason City, Manly MARY PIEPER

Special to the Globe Gazette‌

Bob Rush of Manly, who became a firefighter 20 years ago, works at a paid department while also serving as a volunteer for another. When he is not working for the Mason City Fire Department, he is on call with the volunteer fire department in Manly, where he has served as chief since 2010. He also serves as a paramedic in both towns. When Rush was 23 years old and living in Woodburn, a member of the local volunteer first department asked him to join because they needed more members. He decided to join and has been a first responder ever since. Rush’s day job was in a factory in southern Iowa, but “I was finding my passion was the fire department,” he said. He began testing for different career fire departments across the state and was hired by the Mason City Fire Department in September 2001. He joined the Manly volunteer department in 2002. “We have a great bunch of people on this department, but it’s hard to get volunteers anymore,” Rush said. “We are short staffed just like everywhere else.” It takes a lot of dedication to be a volunteer firefighter, according to Rush. “I’m proud of the individuals who do that throughout the country because they are doing it for their community, not doing it Name: Bob Rush for compensation or retirement,” he said. Category: Firefighter/Paramedic What Rush likes best about firefighting is “helping people in need, but also the caAgency: Mason City Fire Department, maraderie, the family atmosphere of the Manly Fire Department department.” Nominator: Aaron Pals It’s a bit like being in the military, according to Rush. The reason: “Just the dedication he has “We depend on each other,” he said. “It’s to serving the public, He’s been with a bonding experience and a family atmoMason City Fire for probably over two desphere.” cades, he’s been with this fire department Rush said the toughest calls are “anysince he moved here. He’s been the chief thing that deals with children, but when now for close to 10 years. He’s just really you can help them it is rewarding. We dedicated, really community oriented.” don’t do it for the thanks, but to see the appreciation from the family when you do help, whether it is a child or a spouse, it’s As the fire chief in Manly, Rush works rewarding just to know you were there and closely with Police Chief Aaron Pals. were able to help.” “He’s just really dedicated, really com-

About the first responder


Bob Rush became a firefighter 20 years ago. When he is not working for the Mason City Fire Department, he is on call with the volunteer fire department in Manly, where he has served as chief since 2010. He also serves as a paramedic in both towns. munity-oriented,” Pals said. Rush was promoted to lieutenant with the Mason City Fire Department two years go. He is in charge of company operations and emergency scenes, as well as being more involved in training. “I do enjoy teaching people new skills,” he said. “I find that rewarding, helping new firefighters learn new skills or get better at the ones they have.” Rush became a paramedic in 2004. He was an EMT before that. “We are able to do a lot of things in the field being a paramedic that allows us to help people and get them to the ER, to get them stabilized so we can get to the emergency room,” he said. “It can be very re-

warding.” Rush’s advice for anyone who wants to be a first responder is the same as the Nike slogan: “Just do it.” “Get a hold of your local fire department or rescue service and just talk to them and see if they need help,” he said. “I’m sure they do. It does take some time and some classes, constant training, but the rewards are just endless.” Rush wishes more people would become first responders. “I know we are a busy society, but it’s very rewarding,” he said. Rush doesn’t feel he needs special recognition for what he does because being a first responder is a team effort.

Globe Gazette


Sunday, October 24, 2021 | L11

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L12 | Sunday, October 24, 2021


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